Student Vulnerability, Agency and Learning Analytics: An Exploration


  • Paul Prinsloo University of South Africa
  • Sharon Slade The Open University



Agency, ethics, informed consent, learning analytics, opt out, opting out


The increasing potential and practice of collecting, analysing and using student data necessitates that higher education institutions (HEIs) critically examine their assumptions, paradigms and practices regarding student data. There is a real danger that some current approaches to learning analytics within higher education ignore the fiduciary duty of HEIs and the impact and scope of the asymmetrical power relationship between students and the institution. In the light of increasing concerns regarding surveillance, higher education cannot afford a simple paternalistic approach to the use of student data. Very few HEIs have regulatory frameworks in place and/or share information with students regarding the scope of data that may be collected, analysed, used and shared. It is clear from literature that basic opting in or opting out does not sufficiently allow for many of the complex issues in the nexus of privacy, consent, vulnerability and agency. The notion of vulnerability (institutional and individual) allows an interesting and useful lens on the collection and use of student data. Though both institutional and individual vulnerability needs to be considered, this paper focuses specifically on student vulnerability. An earlier framework developed by Prinsloo and Slade provides tentative pointers to consider a range of responses to decrease students’ vulnerability, increase students’ agency and move students as participants in learning analytics from quantified selves to qualified selves.

Author Biographies

Paul Prinsloo, University of South Africa

Paul Prinsloo is a Research Professor in open distance learning at the University of South Africa. His research interests include ethical issues in learning analytics, corporate citizenship, curriculum design and factors impacting on the success of teaching and learning in distance education.

Sharon Slade, The Open University

Dr Sharon Slade is a senior lecturer in the faculty of Business and Law at the Open University in the UK. She has recently led work within the Open University on the development of new policy regarding the ethical use of student data to shape their support and learning and improve retention and progression.

Recent research includes papers and chapters establishing an ethical framework for the use of learning analytics within Higher Education, examining the concept of educational triage and broader issues around an ethics of care.




How to Cite

Prinsloo, P., & Slade, S. (2016). Student Vulnerability, Agency and Learning Analytics: An Exploration. Journal of Learning Analytics, 3(1), 159–182.



Special Section: Ethics and Privacy in Learning Analytics